Being Tillotama Shome, and not taking herself seriously

She recalls feeling a sense of dread while reading the script. By the time the last page was turned, it was clear that she had to do it. “After all, I had blood on my hands and was guilty of having the very set of attitudes and entitlement, the film perhaps critiques. I have to first fully accept my shortcoming and prejudice before I seek to rectify it. Maybe, acting in this film was a step towards a personal redressal,” said actor Tillotama Shome, who will be seen in the internationally acclaimed film ‘Is Love Enough? Sir’ to be released in India on November 13.

Director Rohena Gera’s debut film, which revolves around Ratna (Tillotama Shome) working as domestic live-in help with Ashwin (Vivek Gomber), a man from a wealthy family is among the top five highest-grossing Indian films released theatrically in France. It has already released theatrically in more than 25 countries across the world.

Shome took classes in Marathi not just for the few scenes that required her to speak in that language, but also to find Ratna’s context. The thread she held onto was Rohena’s clear direction about the inherent dignity in Ratna, despite facing undignified situations. “Money can’t buy dignity. Either you have this quality or you don’t. And that can be confusing to a class-bound person with privilege- confusing enough to say- ‘Oh look at her, she is a maid but so dignified — with a patronizing emphasis on ‘maid’ and ‘so’.”

Known for her intense roles in movies like ‘Qissa’, ‘Shadows of Time’, ‘The Waiting City’ and ‘Children of War’, Shome, who debuted with Mira Nair’s ‘Monsoon Wedding’ smiles that she definitely went through a phase where she wanted to explore the comedic, even at the cost of failure. “My partner pushed me gently towards it too and am very thankful for that. Complacence can get nauseating after a while. It was so liberating to play Bonnie, in ‘Death in the Gunj’, or the consultant in ‘Hindi Medium’. I highly recommend not taking oneself too seriously — it’s freeing, leaves room for errors and possible learnings if you are lucky.”

A pass-out from the Capital’s LSR College who joined Asmita theatre group, she remembers the stage as the magical space where she was able to bypass the cops in her head that said she could not talk without a stammer.

“I owe theatre big time for that, for helping me find my voice and my body. My awkwardness on stage became apparent only after I did my first film. On Mira Nair’s set, I felt the intimacy of cinema was more suited to my temperament than theatre. I felt safer in front of a camera than a huge live audience. But the magic of watching theater remains unchanged.”

Shome, who took a break from acting after her first two films and went to the US to do a Master’s programme in Educational Theatre and also did drama therapy with prison inmates, will be seen in films by Anup Singh, Rima Das and Saumyananda Sahi once shooting begins after a long break owing to the Covid 19 outbreak. “The pandemic has made these three films even closer to my heart. The power that lives within the pages of these screenplays and the compassion within the hearts of these filmmakers is so extraordinary that any delay is only more time to prepare and fall in love with the material,” she concludes.